An Analysis of Francis Fox Piven’s and Richard Cloward’s Theory Uses of Public Welfare as a Mechanism of Social Control

An Analysis of Francis Fox Piven’s and Richard Cloward’s Theory Uses of Public Welfare as a Mechanism of Social Control

A Case Study Fulton County’s Welfare Practices, (1950-1969)


MULLEN, DOLLY JENKINS B.A., Morgan State University, 1977 An Analysis of Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward’s Theory on the Uses of Public Welfare as a Mechanism of Social Control: Case Study Fulton County’s Welfare Practices, 1950-1969 Adviser: William Boone Thesis dated: May 1980 This study looks at one theory on relief in America and attempts to ascertain the validity of this theory as applied to Fulton County, Georgia. Richard Cloward and Francis Fox Piven in Regulating the Poor suggest that public welfare serves two functions depending on certain social and economic conditions. They maintain that welfare functions during restrictive periods as an enforcer of the work ethic. The poor, during this span, usually receive little in the way of benefits; instead they are forced into a labor market which in all likelihood is beneficial to the local economy. The second function of the public welfare system is, according to Cloward and Piven, that of a social control. That is public welfare systems increase aid in times of civil disorder to act as a tool of appeasement for the poor. Cloward and Piven, for the most part, examined national relief policies to substantiate their findings. This study however, limits its focus to a local setting. Fulton County which houses the city of Atlanta seemed an appropriate area to test the Cloward and Piven hypothesis. While much knowledge was gained concerning the functions of public welfare in Fulton County, a number of questions were confronted. It was discovered that Fulton County’s welfare policies during the 1950’s were indeed restrictive as was suggested by Cloward. The 1960’s however, saw the increase in local as well as national welfare expenditures as again was suggested by Cloward and Piven. Questions were raised though when one looked at the years and types of disturbances in Atlanta and the years, motives and sources of increased welfare budgets in the city. Atlanta’s civil rights activity was hardly as threatening as those rebellions which took place in the late sixties in other cities throughout the country. The civil rights movement in Atlanta was, for the most part, conducted in the early sixties. Welfare increases occurred in the mid-late sixties. Finally, the federal government emerged as the source doing the bulk of the giving where relief was concerned. All of these questions suggested that the Cloward and Piven conclusion on welfare’s function as a social control may be inaccurate.

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